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A recent pilot project designed by Old Mutual Corporate and a large South African employer to address the emotional and psychological impact of the illness on an employee’s wellbeing revealed this insight.
Speaking ahead of World AIDS Day, Urvashi Ramjee, Head of Claims at Old Mutual Corporate, says that the project showed that conventional treatment and human interaction was a powerful combination in aiding the recovery from severe illness. “Unlike many existing health and wellness programmes aimed more at prevention, the Old Mutual Well4Work programme assists people who are unable to work due to the medical and emotional effects of HIV to return to work sooner,” says Ramjee.
Research by Old Mutual indicates that employees who return to work within six months have a significantly higher chance of returning to good health. “Human beings are social creatures, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that work is good for us. Apart from providing us with an income, work is a source of social identity, giving us purpose and meaning,” says Ramjee.
The social stigma associated with contracting HIV remains a concern, and leaves many feeling emotionally isolated and despondent, which can result in secondary complications like depression, she notes. “The Well4Work programme addresses this. It offers disability claimants a variety of customised interventions – both physiological and psychological – that are aimed at assisting them to return to work. These interventions include access to various medical practitioners and treatment, workplace support if necessary, as well as one-on-one coaching and counselling.”
A beneficiary of the programme said that the project had an immensely positive impact on her wellbeing. “The programme has been great. I have been given hope and encouragement to carry on with my life. It made me feel special and human, and I like the support,” she said.
Ramjee says that the programme is also good for companies. “Short-term intensive holistic treatment for HIV can reduce long-term costs associated with workers who are too unwell to work. Getting employees well enough to return to work sooner not only boosts productivity, but significantly reduces the claims period – resulting in fewer premium price increases for employers.”
Since October this year, doctors in the United Kingdom were encouraged by National Health guidelines to prescribe human engagement – in the form of recreational activities such as art, dancing and gardening – to treat patients with depression, high blood pressure or heart disease.
“The evidence for the benefits of ‘social prescriptions’ in the treatment of mental and physical health is strong. According to the World Economic Forum, UK health authorities will be investing £4, 5 million towards using holistic treatment in conjunction with conventional medicine to improve the health outcomes of patients,” reports Ramjee.
With the right programmes available, corporate South Africa has a responsibility to ensure workers are supported holistically, she says. “All companies need to continue driving the message that with the right treatment HIV can be managed.”
Ramjee concludes, “HIV does not distinguish between social classes, and all South African companies – no matter their worker profile – have an important role to play in eliminating the social stigma that continues to accompany HIV by not only creating awareness, but also building a culture of tolerance and acceptance.”